If Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc doesn’t scale the insurmountable heights of St. Joan films by Dreyer or Bresson, it’s for Bruno Dumont’s lack of interest in retreading tired ground. Instead of focusing on Joan’s suffering or the procedure under which she was sentenced to death, Dumont centers his film around questions of the nature of an adolescent Joan’s faith and her later hesitance to become the warlord France needs. All of this is set to chintzy rock opera music, complete with off-key singing, anachronistic dabbing, and headbanging nuns.
Juxtaposing the frequent musical numbers with somber reflections on the suffering of France and the righteous need to go to war brings levity to the film while emphasizing both Joan’s childhood and her probable madness. In the film’s most memorable scene, a very young Joan and a pair of nuns polemicize at one another through song until habits come off and hair starts flying in rhythm. But for however much the film lightens the subject matter, Dumont never lessens it, so often are serious pleas to God given the same weight that Dreyer lent them.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 1.